Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 27, 2023

Four Things

Image by Tom Barrett, via Unsplash, license.
1. My Fun Web Site of the Week is that of the Cloud Appreciation Society, which bills itself as "the society for people who love the sky." There are several pictorial features worth looking at, including "Today's Cloud-a-Day," the "Cloud of the Month," "Recent Clouds Spotted," and news pertaining to clouds. There are also a book and a "Cloud-a-Day" phone app on offer.

2. I have no immediate use for this idea, but it's too good to forget or not to pass on...

A software developer encountered a common feature request that would be excessively difficult to implement because it did not really fit into his code library.

His solution involved a creative use of documentation:
I found that I could document some example code that accomplished the goal, rather than actually adding it to the library. This helps people accomplish their goals without increasing Helmet's surface area. [bold added]
He cautions that he doesn't think this is always the best solution.

His other tips are also accessible and worth looking at, even if you have nothing to do with software development.

3. The headline just about says it all: "US Marines Defeat DARPA Robot by Hiding Under a Cardboard Box"

This is funny, but read the whole thing, especially if you have kids.

My daughter was complaining about a "dumb" machine on the way to school one morning, and I had a great, entertaining, and nearly ready-made example that helped her forget her frustration and, I hope, will help the kids form a realistic perspective on what machines can and can't do.

It turns out that she was already familiar with the term AI, too.

4. Today, in the FA Cup, Arsenal visit Manchester City.

The two teams currently are first- and second-place in the English Premier League standings, so the game is generating lots of interest -- and there's also a student vs. mentor angle, which the British media have been playing up.

Regarding that, I have found myself thinking more than once (and not just at this encounter) That's a great boss on reading things like this account of how City Coach Pep Guardiola responds when asked about his former assistant, Mikel Arteta, who now has Arsenal running like a well-oiled machine:
I am not a guy to say, "no, you have to stay with me." Everyone has dreams. We felt if one team could offer him (the chance) to be manager he would leave. I know he went to "his" club, the team he dreams of. He's a supporter, for the fact he played there, he was a captain there. He loves the club. I remember when we were together here, when we scored goals, he'd jump a lot and celebrate -- except against one team, Arsenal. People have to fly when they believe it is the best. Life is too short. Spend time in a place you believe suits you better. [bold added]
Or, as my favorite business writer sums it up in "10 things Great Bosses Do":
Great bosses treat people well. They know that they have people working for them, not automatons, and that those people have options for where they work. They care about their quality of life, they know that people will make mistakes and even sometimes fail, they recognize that employees have lives outside of work (lives that will sometimes get in the way!), and they treat people with dignity and kindness, even in the hardest moments, like letting someone go.
On top of enjoying the often near-flawless soccer, I've been treated to a masterclass in leadership from Arteta especially since watching the documentary All or Nothing: Arsenal early in the season.

This and his long record of success suggest that Guardiola is another model for good leadership.

-- CAV


Search Suggestion Answers Unasked Question

Thursday, January 26, 2023

One of the Christmas gifts in the Van Horn household this year was a cup with a lid and a rubber bottom on it.

My kids were toddlers recently enough that the rubber bottom reminded me of one of the many (and seemingly always proliferating) varieties of sippy cups out there. (Badly-designed sippy cups were something of a pet peeve to me back when the kids were toddlers.)

I believe this screenshot of a search box and auto-completions is protected as Fair Use under U.S. copyright law.
That kind of cup never made sense to me: If a toddler or other accident-prone person reaches for a cup and bumps it, a rubber bottom would make a tipover more likely, because the cup would not be free to slide a bit, and so remain upright.

It's a little bit like rubber-soled "non-slip" shoes that can grab onto a smooth surface at the slightest misstep and cause almost anyone to trip randomly: At best, you trade in one kind of accident for another if you wear them everywhere.

My mother and my father-in-law have taken very nasty falls, thanks to non-slip shoes.

Someone must have written a good rant about this, I thought. So I started typing in a search, and as I did so, the word boat caught my eye among the auto-generated suggestions.

I'm pretty sure that most of the people using these cups aren't on boats all the time, but I guess if you're going to place something on a surface that won't necessarily be level the whole time, a non-slip bottom makes sense. (A wide bottom or a low center of gravity would improve on this.)

That's something I hadn't considered and, while it doesn't make rubber bottoms on cups a good idea for most situations, it does show that it's not the completely ridiculous idea I was inclined to believe it was.

So, unless I am in a hurry, I keep an eye on the auto-suggestions now.

-- CAV


Nationalists Are Glomming on to ESG

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

At RealClear Energy is a column titled "When the New Right Meets the Old Left on ESG," by Rupert Darwall. It is notable for bringing up an interesting historical note and for warning about a possible trend.

First, the history:

Image by Viktor Talashuk, via Unsplash, license.
... BlackRock's conversion to climate activism and demanding that the companies it invests in should produce net-zero transition plans followed an intervention by the Sisters of Mercy, who had filed a motion ahead of BlackRock's 2020 annual meeting accusing it of neglecting climate issues in its stewardship program. Whatever the motives of the sisters, it is highly improbable that they included maximizing the value of BlackRock stock.
Hmmm. Nuns trying to shame a business into becoming a sacrificial lamb... Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It's too bad BlackRock didn't have someone like T.J. Rodgers at its helm.

Second, the warning:
[Julius Krein, senior editor of the nationalist conservative journal American Affairs] argues that conservatives should drop their "silly pretence" in the efficacy of markets and promote a conservative version of ESG, incorporating "their own substantive goals" -- an implicit admission that ESG is indeed a vehicle for promoting a political agenda. This is asking conservatives to accept two counterintuitive propositions: first, that Congress and the administrative state have the potential to be more efficient capital allocators than markets; second, that conservatives can impose their cultural values and political preferences on Wall Street and blue-state pension funds such as CalPERS, CalSTRS, and the New York State Common Retirement Fund. [bold added]
I am not sure what distresses me more here -- the fact that "conservative ESG" is being mooted -- as if conservatives can't already run businesses and largely decide how to invest on whatever ideological basis they want; or that conservatives are so indifferent to the fact that government investing is inherently a swindle since the government has no money of its own; or the complete absence of the word rights even from the messenger, who clearly means well.

Darwall does mention certain (evidently incomplete or inconsistently enforced) legal safeguards of investor money in the next paragraph. And he does warn that the proposed move resembles the European "effort to socialize savings."

But only an explicit call for government to protect individual rights can help one see that (a) what the likes of California have already done has already in part "amount[ed] to nationalization by stealth," or that (b) the only ultimate way out of this mess is to begin in whatever small way possible to "privatize the investment sector."

-- CAV


Gas Stove Myths; Leftist Myopia and Projection

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Nearly a year ago, I saw the hype machine revving up against gas stoves, per the following Tweet:

I believe this screenshot from Twitter is protected as Fair Use under U.S. copyright law.
Scary Mommy: Professor Rob Jackson conducted a study that found that gas stoves constantly leak a little methane, even when turned off, and pollute household air with nitrogen oxides, and other dangerous gases, which can damage lungs, especially kids' lungs.

My Reply: Somehow, millions of others and I have survived entire childhoods in houses with gas stoves. But let's ignore that, drop everything, and rip them out because a bunch of ninnies are doing it.

The electric oven quote is par for the course for this idiotic kind of mentality.
See the screen-captured Tweet for the misquote (or slip of the tongue) regarding the fear-based throwing out of a gas oven, on the basis of one scientific study, taken out of context.

Naturally (Hah!), since the right doesn't know how to do anything but ape the left, the developing story of how evil gas stoves supposedly are has turned into the latest "culture war." To hear the right, the feds are coming for your stove, maybe even before your guns, and there is no better way on Earth to cook than a gas stove.

The usual next move these days is for some lefty to assume a condescending tone and debunk all the myths emanating from the right, like farts from cattle. Any legitimate worries can thus be ignored as part of a neat, hysterical package.

And so we have Rebecca Leber of Vox stepping in -- for the greater "good," of course -- to snuff out all those lies and misinformation for us.

And those myths are...
  1. Biden -- or Federal Regulators -- Want to Take Your Gas Stove Away
  2. Gas Stove Hazards Are "Newfound"
  3. No Type of Cooking Can Compare to the Gas Stove
  4. Most of America Uses Gas Stoves
  5. As Long as You Use Ventilation, the Risks Don't Matter
While I don't personally believe any of the above "myths" or know anyone who has spread them, I've heard similar-enough from the right. And they do make a good caricature of the kind of scattershot arguments unprincipled people make when they share too many premises in common with someone basically coming to cash in on said premises.

"Safety" for "the children" (with an undercurrent of a suspicion of capitalism) is a favorite:
The study that caught national attention estimated that almost 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the US are linked to gas stove use, similar to the level caused by secondhand smoke. That study is based on a review of the evidence from 2013, which examined 41 studies from multiple countries, dating as far back as 1977, to conclude that children living in households with gas stoves had a 42 percent higher risk of currently being diagnosed with asthma and a 24 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with asthma at some point in their life.

...

Ventilating the kitchen is the only solution we have to lessening exposure to pollutants when the stove or oven is on. But in practice, some hoods don't vent the air outdoors but rather recirculate it inside, or people may be in a small space where pollution builds more quickly. Some issues are behavioral -- like people not even using the hood they have, by neglecting to turn it on. Some of the problem is that not all hoods are capable of filtering out NO2 levels. As journalist Michael Thomas explained, range hoods don't always perform well in the real world. Studies, like at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) found that code-compliant hoods in California still captured just about half of NO2 pollution. [links omitted, bold added]
My takeaway from the above information? If asthma is a problem in your family, consider an electric stove, or at least make sure you have an over-the-range hood that vents to the outdoors.

And use the range hood.

Practically everyone else assumes that the government, as the nation's wet nurse, should be in charge of everyone's safety, including that of the incompetent and the negligent -- even if that means forcing those of us perfectly capable of using something safely for ourselves and those we care about to do without something that has been used in that manner for at least a century.

Gas stoves, by the way, are much cleaner and safer than open fires and wood stoves, even with the reported problem, but our self-appointed betters either don't know that or don't care -- just like they don't know the difference between a vent (to outdoors) and a (recirculating) fan.

So the best I expect conservatives to muster is a quibble about how we regulate gas stoves, rather than to push back on the whole idea of improper, preventative law, of which the proposed regulations are an example, and for which private efforts would be more effective.

Mention children and rely on common, but long-discredited stereotypes of capitalism being predatory, and today's right has nothing.

But demonizing a proven technology and tightening the regulatory noose are never the end game of the left, and the blind rebellion of the right -- which is correct not to put banning gas stoves or worse past the left -- bears witness to that.

The tell here is that "climate change," that universal, all-causing boogieman of the left, gets mentioned here and there. Gas stoves aren't just unsafe: They leak greenhouse gases.

This is worse to the left, who would rather save "the planet" from humans than improve it for humans.

I have followed this story only to a limited extent after right wing hysteria about diesel exhaust fluid and then diesel shortages taught me not to panic with them. That said, the one thing that lent this story any credibility to me was that the stoves -- which are already banned in new residential construction in some locales in California -- are on the Global Warming %#!+ List.

But then I remembered: Who needs to ban gas stoves when the entire left is working overtime to ban the use of fossil fuels? Look at all the places banning the sale of gasoline cars in the near future: Non-leftists are hardly idiots to think gas stoves (or anything else that burns fossil fuel) could be next.

So, at best, leftists are operating on a threat premise by shouting Gas stoves are unsafe! -- because of a weird laser-focus on an easily-avoided hazard -- when they are actually quite safe, all things considered. We also have an example of the left projecting its own thought process onto dissenters. They seem to think The rabble think they're going to lose their stoves tomorrow, so let's pacify them by assurances about child safety so they'll shut up and let us protect them from themselves.

For that immediate end, the Vox piece passes the test, and makes the left sound wise -- to anyone who can't hold a context and somehow forgets the "climate crisis" it's been hammering into our skulls for decades -- and couldn't keep quiet about for even one article.

But for those of us who can hold a context, this is obvious: If they were to ban fossil fuels altogether, they wouldn't "need" to ban gas stoves.

Reading this Vox piece is like having a beer in the presence of a Baptist preacher: He might not grab that particular drink from your hands right now, and he wouldn't be lying if he said he wouldn't. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't make it imposssible for you to have a beer at all in the future, if he could find a way to bring back Prohibition.

-- CAV


Call It 'Woke Cronyism' Instead, Please

Monday, January 23, 2023

In a Nation piece whose nasty tone reminds me of Ayn Rand's Lillian Rearden, Joan Walsh notes that Ron DeSantis is crusading against something he is calling "woke capitalism" -- a term coined by Ross Douthat, the conservative writer at the New York Times.

Like the terms overregulation and crony capitalism, the phrase involves a stumbling out of the gate at a time when the enemies of freedom already have a head-start.

Reardon -- I mean Walsh -- elaborates on her idea of what DeSantis is fighting:

Calling it woke capitalism is a poor start. Among other things, the phrase covers up the state's role, and wrongly implies it would fly in a free market. (Image by Petr Kadlec, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis committed to fight "woke ideology" at his inauguration last week. It's part of his crusade against "woke capitalism," by which he means companies that see LGBT people as part of their market (Disney) or make noises about building environmental concerns into their investment strategies (BlackRock), and pharmacy chains that peddle what he now insists is a dangerous Covid vaccine... [bold added]
We have a couple of layers of crud to peel off before we can even begin to talk about this.

First, we have to walk back from the usual smuggled-in leftist pieties/smears: One can be a good person without proclaiming adherence to some virtue or a political cause at the start of every sentence.

A company can see everyone as potential customers -- and provide excellent value to them -- without naming every currently fashionable category at every turn, nagging everyone to be tolerant of members of said categories, or even agreeing with left-wing political goals regarding such individuals.

A company can indeed run its business guided by principles that arguably harm its bottom line -- or not -- and attract customers. BlackRock and Chick-fil-A both famously do so. Regarding vaccines, a certain degree of paranoia is understandable, given how stridently the government and the left over-sold the Covid vaccines.

I don't share that paranoia, but I can see how it fits in as "woke" and with what DeSantis is doing.

That said, I have not been a big fan of the ways DeSantis has fought back. Why is he threatening Disney over its political speech instead of working on how to give every business more freedom? Why on Earth is he aping Gavin Newsom (but in the opposite direction on the issue) by forbidding businesses to require customers or employees to take vaccines?

At best, DeSantis means well, but is of an age where the government runs everything, and so stops at asking how he's going to counteract this, rather than asking if the government should be doing anything at all -- other than protecting individual rights.

Stripped of Walsh's bile and DeSantis's decisions to misuse government in return, we have a major media company participating in an education policy debate, a major investment firm pushing anti-fossil policies, and arguendo drug companies caving to pandemic hysteria -- all very left-wing positions. Isn't it their right to do so, but aren't these actually not-exactly-popular positions?

What -- if anything -- to do?

I don't have all the answers, but the first thing would be to quit pretending -- or helping the left pretend (as Walsh does) -- that this insanity would actually win in a free market, by calling it woke capitalism. ESG is succeeding in large part due to inappropriate state control of investment funds. That is not capitalism:
[W]hen state pension plans ... [start] making or "encouraging" companies to change how they operate based on ideological issues (such as causing oil companies to get behind green anti-fossil fuel initiatives), this amounts to the state adding the further injury of lower profitability for such companies to the original one of what amounts to nationalization by stealth.
And, as I said elsewhere in the piece:
State interference in ideology is the real problem with ESG. A truly free market would allow investors to make clear-eyed decisions about where to place their money and whether they want to earn higher returns or support political causes with their money.
I have likewise argued elsewhere that vaccine uptake would have been more rapid and less attractive to conspiracy nuts in a free market.

And then there's Disney. What would it even have to say if there were a free market in education, rather than a state monopoly on education -- which inherently comes with the threat that such ideologies as climate catastrophism, critical race theory, and the latest bizarre academic fad about "gender" can be ramrodded into our children's skulls top-down?

All of this is "woke" and none of it is capitalism.

Let's call it something else, like maybe woke cronyism, instead. This would fall like a house of cards if politicians would work to break the government's stranglehold on practically every area of commerce, and normal human beings once again had the power to make choices in a free market, like: where to invest for retirement (not BlackRock!), where to take a vacation (maybe not Disney!), whether to get vaccinated, and where to educate our children.

-- CAV


Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 20, 2023

Four How-Tos

It was time to go through some bookmarks. In the bargain, I got a reminder, some neat trivia, a funny trip down memory lane, and something to try with one of my favorite kinds of birds.

***

1. The green comet passing Earth soon will be making its first appearance in our skies since the time of the Neanderthals, and it may be visible to the naked eye.

Mental Floss explains when and how to see it.

2. While we're still on the subject of astronomy, did you know that lunar eclipses can occur before sunset, thanks to atmospheric refraction?

Not only that, it happens all the time, and further down in the discussion, someone explains how to go about seeing it, for those with time and money on their hands.

3. Oh, okay, one more on astronomy, albeit indirectly.

"I washed my USB drive. Any long-term risks?" comes up because some time ago, I was going to set up a telescope for the family and some visiting relatives to see a lunar eclipse at night.

This was in Florida, at my in-laws' house, which had a small dock on the bay out back. It was at night, and, while the dock had lights around its edges, it also branched in a couple of places, so that the lights, when viewed a certain way, formed a grid. Some "squares" were over water, and some weren't.

Eager to view the eclipse, and absorbed in the task at hand, I took a step to the side...

... and quickly found myself seated on the bay bottom, in very shallow water. Annoyed -- because how effing lucky I was hadn't sunk in yet -- I climbed out and walked back to the house. By the time I got there, I was laughing about it.

As a bonus, I'm pretty sure I photobombed a Zoom conference my sister-in-law was holding in the middle of the dining room, while on my way to clean up and change.

I'll have to ask her some time if anyone noticed.

Naturally, I had a USB drive in my pocket. It got wet, and the above link is what I found.

Said drive still works, I have a funny story, and I won't go out to play around on a dock at night without having someone with me again.

4. I thought I liked crows a lot ... until I happened upon "How to Befriend Crows":
Image by Kevin Mueller, via Unsplash, license.
If you feed them regularly, they will come to recognize you. They're remarkably good at recognizing faces, gaits, and even the sound of a particular car's engine.

In the rain wearing a new jacket with the hood up? They recognize me.

After a year away from the office due to COVID policies, I thought my office friends would have forgotten me. No. They spotted me within a few yards of the parking garage.
The thread is nicely illustrated with photographs, including a fine one of a crow shelling a peanut.

-- CAV

Updates

1-22-23
: Corrected section on comet. HT: Steve D.


You, too, Can 'Ask the Right Questions'

Thursday, January 19, 2023

We often hear that a major part of success is asking the right questions. But these don't always come up quickly, and lots of people aren't good at it, or have trouble coming up with them in certain areas.

One way around such limitations comes from Jean Moroney, one of my favorite productivity gurus. She suggests using pre-made lists of questions in the context of one's own thinking.

Of course, the method can be extended to incorporate expert thinking about more specific matters, which she also recommends:

Image by Ana Municio, via Unsplash, license.
Once you learn "thinking on paper," you can take advantage of all kinds of expert advice. One of the tactics I recommend is that you collect sets of questions from experts on different topics. In the Toolkit, I explain how to use these questions and include 31 sets of expert questions on ten topics ranging from goal-setting to dealing with emotional issues and presenting ideas.
Of course, advice in one field can often be applied to another, so a good question can often help with other things aside from its original purpose.

That said, I keep an antenna out for such questions, and ran across a set of them fairly recently at Ask a Manager on the subject of ice breakers at work.

On top of the list being recommended by Alison Green, the short post passing it along shows that asking the right question can sometimes yield unexpectedly useful results.

Green provides the following example from Sarah Lichtenstein Walter, who came up with the list:
Sarah says, "My favorite of these is the favorite/least favorite work activities -- it legitimately helped my team work together better. I hate longer form writing and love doing data matching in Excel. I have a teammate who is the exact opposite. She edited/rewrote a grant proposal I was working on and I created a template for her to manage a process she'd been struggling with!
It is easy enough to see how even just asking oneself the above question can be helpful: It might occur to as a solution to delegate or contract out an activity you dislike or aren't particularly good at. Here, asking it of a group led to a solution and finding help more quickly.

Even if you do nothing with a good set of questions but use them for a given area, you stand to come out ahead. So if the questions aren't coming, it might help to see if they might already be floating around out there.

-- CAV